Two years ago, a GOP-controlled Minnesota legislature—swept in with the 2010 wave—referred a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage to the voters. But as they say, elections have consequences, and on this issue, the consequences were particularly obvious. Not only was the Amendment defeated (earning 47.4 percent of the vote), but the DFL (Minnesota’s Democratic Party affiliate) also retook both chambers of the legislature. With an equality-supporting Mark Dayton in the governor's mansion, DFL legislators quickly introduced a marriage equality bill. The bill is moving forward, no less, with passage through committee appearing very likely in both chambers.
The State Senate, which has 67 members, now has a 39-28 DFL majority (a gain of nine seats from the previous session); 34 votes are needed to pass legislation. Each Senate district is also subdivided into two House districts, with "A" or "B" appended to the district number to distinguish the two. The House is, consequently, twice the size of the Senate at 134 members (meaning 68 votes are needed to pass legislation), and has a 73-61 DFL majority (a gain of 11 seats).
But, what happens after the bill reaches the floor of each house? Well, thanks to the results from Amendment 1, we can get a sense of how supportive each House district (HD) and Senate district (SD) is of marriage equality. Of course, opposition to a constitutional ban does not directly translate into support for marriage equality. Consider, for example, state Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), who voted against referral (of Amendment 1 to the ballot) in 2011, but is currently on the record as wavering regarding support of marriage equality. Indeed, you'd expect a bit a drop-off between opposition to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and outright support for marriage equality.
That marginal difference, however, is where the fate of marriage equality in Minnesota hangs. In the House, Amendment 1 received less than 50 percent of the vote in 78 of 134 HDs (recall that undervotes counted as effective "No" votes), but less than 47 percent only in 62. Similarly in the Senate, Amendment 1 received less than 50 percent in 39 of 67 SDs, but less than 47 percent only in 31. Assuming that legislators followed the preferences of their district (more on this later), a 3 percent drop-off from opposition to a ban to outright support would mean that this bill would fail, but a 1.5 percent drop-off would mean that the bill would pass: Amendment 1 was below 48.5 percent in 35 of 67 SDs and 71 of 134 HDs.
Below are maps showing the HDs and SDs by the party of their legislator and whether "Yes" on Amendment 1 received more than 50 percent in the district. Red indicates a district with a Republican legislator; dark red if it voted "Yes" on Amendment 1 and pink if it voted "No." Blue indicates a district with a DFL legislator; dark blue if it voted "No" on Amendment 1 and light blue if it voted "Yes." The House is on the left; Senate on the right. On top are full statewide maps for each chamber; below those are more detailed maps of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area:
The pattern here becomes very obvious, especially on the House maps: urban and suburban districts opposed Amendment 1, while rural districts supported it. The light pink "ring" surrounding the Twin Cities should be the Republican legislators that equality advocates have the greatest chance of getting, while the light blue outstate districts are the DFL legislators that may oppose the bill. (All five DFLers that voted for the referral of Amendment 1 represented rural outstate districts.)
There’s no guarantee, of course, that a legislator will follow the preferences of his or her district. Optimistically, for example, DFL Sen. Tony Lourey is a co-sponsor, despite representing an outstate district (SD-11) that gave "Yes" 57 percent of the vote. On the flipside, you have folks like Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville), who opposes the bill and said that he would "personally go to jail" before performing a same-sex marriage ... even though his suburban district, SD-56, gave "Yes" only 45 percent.
Let’s consider one additional angle: adopting the cynical approach and assuming that legislators are motivated by self-preservation. The National Organization for Marriage has made clear its approach to Republicans who support marriage equality, and only 21 of the 47 Republicans who have supported marriage equality in the past are in office today. This statistic is skewed, however—many Republican legislators had already decided to leave office before supporting marriage equality. Indeed, while a few Republicans have lost in a primary, many others who subsequently lost did so at the hands of Democrats. (There's also the additional complication of redistricting.)
Consider, for example, the outcomes of the four New York state senators who voted in favor of marriage equality in 2011. While Roy McDonald did lose to a primary challenger on the basis of his support for marriage equality, Mark Grisanti won re-election (in a substantially more Republican district after redistricting). Without Grisanti, the statistic may very well be 20 of 47, as his old district gave Obama more than 70 percent of the vote in 2008. Meanwhile, Steve Saland lost to a Democrat, though the Republican vote was split because his right-wing primary challenger remained on the ballot on the Conservative Party's line. Finally, James Alesi opted to retire. Alesi’s decision may have been motivated by the prospect of a primary challenge, but there’s certainly no guarantee on whether he would have won or lost either way.
A similar consideration of the seven Republicans who supported civil unions in Illinois shows similar results: Four already knew they would not be returning for the next session (the vote was held during the lame duck session); one has since passed away; one, Dan Rutherford, is now state treasurer; and one, Skip Saviano, was defeated in 2012 by a Democrat after redistricting.
Indeed, whether or not an incumbent loses on the basis of her support for marriage equality is often is a function of the other political characteristics of her district. In addition to election results from Amendment 1, we can also consider the top of the ballot—how President Obama fared against Mitt Romney. In the maps below, we compare how Obama performed relative to Amendment 1 at the precinct level (blue indicates a better Obama/"No" performance and red indicates a better Romney/"Yes" performance; the presidential race is on the left and Amendment 1 on the right):
At the end of the day, however, it’s the legislature that will decide the outcome of this marriage equality bill. We can condense much of the information above into charts that show, for each HD and SD, the party affiliation of its legislator, the margin in the Presidential race, and how it voted on Amendment 1 (House on the left; Senate on right):
The last cohort of DFL legislators, however, occupies the bottom left quadrant—districts that voted for Romney and for Amendment 1 and are generally occupied by Republican legislators. The two DFLers that voted for referral of Amendment 1 who remain in the legislature fall here: Lyle Koenen’s SD-17 gave "Yes" 63 percent, while LeRoy Stumpf’s SD-01 gave "Yes" 66 percent. (The third DFLer, Denise Dittrich, inexplicably occupied a "No"-voting suburban district, the old HD-47A that largely became new HD-36A, which gave "Yes" less than 48 percent.) Chances are there’ll be a good number of these outstate DFLers (all Metro area DFL districts voted "No") who will defect and vote against the pending marriage equality legislation.
The counterparts to these DFLers, however, are much fewer in number: Republican legislators, in contrast, generally occupy Romney districts—the left two quadrants. Those in the bottom-left quadrant (Romney/"Yes" districts) are probably the least likely to support marriage equality. However, Sen. Brandon Petersen is co-sponsoring the bill even though his district, SD-35, gave "Yes" 52 percent of the vote. Perhaps even more encouragingly, Petersen, then state Rep. from the old HD-49B, had voted for referral of Amendment 1!
Those in the top-left quadrant, as well as the few in the top-right quadrant, are generally those from the suburban "ring" of districts that voted "No" on Amendment 1. They present the most interesting question, and also perhaps the best opportunities for crossover votes in support of marriage equality (Dan Hall notwithstanding). To the extent that we’ll see defections among outstate DFLers, it's these (generally) suburban Republicans who will need to come through to balance out the numbers and ensure passage.
So, where does this leave us? Clearly, Republicans who aren’t in office—such as former state Auditor Patricia Anderson and former Gov. Arne Carlson, have no problem supporting marriage equality. But as for the ones that are in office, let’s hope that they’re less like Dan Hall and more like Brandon Petersen.